The Origin of Three Kisses

If you’re hopping over from the Daily Science Fiction e-mail blast of “Three Kisses”, welcome! If you’re not…welcome anyway!

I mentioned in an earlier post I would describe the writing prompt that led to the creation of my linked “Three Kisses” stories, so here it is. The prompt was set by the fiendishly clever and talented Ilan Lerman, as part of a series of writing challenges.

From a matrix of twenty four random words we had to choose just two, each from a different line, and these had to be used in the closing sentence of our story. The point was to try and work backwards from a known ending to create a story that fitted. It turned out to be a surprisingly effective approach.

This is the word matrix we were confronted with:







As with most writing prompts, I initially stared at it in despair. Nothing. Nothing coming from it at all. Then I started to play with a few word combinations and the ideas slowly began to creep out. After a few false starts I eventually settled on the words “cold” and “lips”. These immediately brought to mind the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale “The Snow Queen”. At first I tried to avoid a straight up retelling of the work, instead attempting to make more oblique references…something like, say, Google’s Project Glass meets the troll mirror, an SFnal spin… but although these showed initial promise, I kept being drawn back to the raw, icy power of the original story. In the end I ditched the contorted layers of allusion and wrote Gerda’s imagined encounter with the Queen of Snowflakes straight up. “The Mirror of Reason” was the result.


By now I was on a roll. My brain went into overdrive identifying other significant kisses in Fairy Tale Land. For some reason it began to obsess about dwarves and their role in “Snow White” (by the Brothers Grimm). How, if we were to actually encounter them, they may not be as “Disney” (or even “Tolkien”) as we might assume. And if the dwarves received an unnecessarily good press, why wouldn’t also the Prince on his stallion? The collision of these two reversals gave rise to “Defenders of the Crystal Casket“.


“The Snow Queen” mentions a third fatal kiss — so I knew I had to write a third installment, and settled on the obvious choice: “Sleeping Beauty”. Again, the antecedents of Charles Perrault‘s fairy tale are much darker than the rosy modern incarnation. (It wasn’t a chaste kiss that woke the cursed Princess in earlier versions, for instance, but the twins she gave birth to whilst still in her cursed sleep.) I couldn’t let the loathsomely arrogant Prince from “Defenders” get off so lightly this time, and “A Royal Breakfast” sees him get his just desserts.


Although “The Mirror of Reason” was the first of the three to be completed, it seemed to make structural sense to me for it to be sandwiched between the two “Prince” stories to create a linked trilogy, and that was how it was submitted, as a single story. DSF are sending the sections out in a slightly different order, but that’s OK since they should each stand individually.

I hope you enjoy each of the “Three Kisses”. I had great fun writing them. And as to Ilan’s prompt…what two words would you choose?


  1. Very intriguing prompt. For some reason, “incinerated” and “goldfinch” are the ones that caught my subconscious. I’m not a writer, but I may have to try this out just for fun sometime. I am a music student, so maybe I could come up with a poem that I could set to music.

    I enjoyed the Three Kisses series very much. I’m a big fan of happy endings, so a little on the depressing side for me, but definitely fun twists and perspectives on the classic tales. And thanks for sharing the details of the inspiration. It’s fascinating to see how artists’ processes work, regardless of the particular art.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed them, Brenda. It’s always interesting to know what readers think, good and bad.

      A lot of my stories do tend to have downbeat endings. I think it’s because they are “easier” if you want an ending with “impact”. It’s something I’m working to improve. And I’m basically an optimistic person at heart!

      Good luck with your own creative work.

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